The Samburu people are a tribe that taught me that beauty should not be reserved only for special occasions, but rather indulged daily. The Samburu people are a tribe that taught me that beauty should not be reserved only for special occasions, but rather indulged daily. The colourfully-adorned Samburu community lives in north-central Kenya, however being semi-nomadic in nature, they migrate around the country on their own accord. Despite their layers of ornamentation, this tribe is described as great Nilotic warriors. Seeing the Samburu covered in an array of colours whilst bearing razor-sharp spears was a jarring contrast at first. However, after learning how they tend to the land they occupy at the time, this polarity in appearance made sense.
The tribe explained to me that their name was coined from the word ‘Samburr’, a durable leather bag used by members of the tribe. Immediately, I became aware of how their clothing and accessories have a significant bearing on their culture. I was surprised to learn that the Samburu actually refer to themselves as Loikop, or Lokop, which translates to “landowners”. This denotation perfectly reflects their shepherding tendencies of maintaining the land. Irrespective of their nomadic nature, I could tell they had a deep respect for their surroundings.
The material culture that defines the Samburu tribe often acts as a postcard depiction of Africa to outsiders. A kaleidoscope of colours makes up the elaborate beaded jewelry that contours their head, neckline, and arms in an abundance that I had never seen before. Beautiful jewelry pieces, woven with importance and symbolism, are a permanent inclusion in their daily outfit. Again, beauty is embedded into the everyday. In addition to the strings of colour, their faces and the goat skin they wrap themselves in are tinted by a mixture of ochre and animal fat. The amalgamation of colours glows as they emerge from their traditional huts and are touched by the sun.
To outsiders, it may seem as though the Samburu have a natural affinity toward colours purely for aesthetic reasons. It is only by conversing with members of the tribe that I soon uncovered the symbolic meaning behind each colour they don. Blue reflects the sky, green connotes the grass, red represents the blood of the cow, with white depicting the cow’s milk and purity in general. The superfluous use of colours in most other communities is reserved for significant events, however, for the Samburu tribe, this forms an integral part of their day-to-day garments. The pieces are made for use by only the Samburu, and are a manifestation of their culture. Centuries of tradition are galvanised by ornate accessories. Beauty injected into the mundanities of the everyday. This builds the foundation of the Samburu tribe.
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